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The Impossibility of Mini-Islamic States

By ABID ULLAH JAN
Published July 11, 2006

From al-Banna and Qutb to Moududi and Dr. Israr Ahmad, great Muslim scholars
proposed the formation of Islamic States in their respective countries. Some
Muslim scholars still insist that Muslims should come up with at least one
Islamic model of governance somewhere in the world, so that the rest of the
Muslim countries follow the suite and the West understands that Islamic
State is not a threat to its survival. Many of the comparatively moderate
Islamophobes are now suggesting "Islamic democracy." After the systematic
effort to demonize and subsequently dislodge the Taliban (and still trying
to annihilate them) one is compelled to ask: Will Muslims ever succeed in
having a truly Islamic states in their existing nation-states? How long will
it take to have 57 Islamic mini-States? Will Islamic States with "Islamic
democracy" satisfy both the basic principles of Islam and please the
champions of democracy at the same time? We must not forget that these are
the champions, who used the pretext of democracy to hide the lies they have
used to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.
Unfortunately, the sine qua non of democracy is no more collective
self-government through popular elections. It is the acceptability of the
winning party and individuals to the modern day fascists. Election of Hamas
to power and the Western reaction is a clear evidence in this regard.
Elections and results in occupied Afghanistan and Iraq are acceptable. But
elections in Iran are considered meaningless.
Using mere elections as a standard for ensuring people's rule is absurd.
According to a massive Gallup Voice of the People survey that gauged
attitudes in 68 countries on issues ranging from poverty to the environment,
just 37 percent Americans, 36 percent of Canadians, 30 percent British, 26
percent French, and 18 percent German said their countries were governed by
the will of the people.[1] The results are published in a book called Voice
of the People 2006: What the World Thinks of Today's Global Issues.
In the context of "Islamic democracy" and making the nation-states concept
acceptable to Muslims, one can see the roots of Muslim delusion in Muslim
history. From the beginning, Muslims thought that the concept of democracy
is similar to the medieval classics of Islamic political theory and
therefore it would be possible for them to establish Islamic states in their
respective countries. This effectively divided the Ummah into more than
fifty states, but they have yet to see the emergence of a single Islamic
model of governance in which the medieval classic of Islamic political
theory is put into practice. There is no doubt that the kind of meaningless
elections we witness today do not figure in the early Islamic political
theory. Nor have governments in Islamic history, from the earliest period
until today, relied on popular elections when choosing their leaders.
However, it does not mean a lack of accountability, consultation and consent
of the governed. Yet after the strategic withdrawal of the colonialists from
the Muslim world and effectively dividing it into many states, various
proposals for Islamic democracy built on political pluralism emerged,
ignoring the undermining of the concept of Ummah as a result. Islamic
democrats-from autocrats, such as General Musharraf to opportunist political
leaders and religious figures, to ordinary Muslim voters-all have subtly
different views about the nature of democracy in Muslim majority states.
Then there is the concept of "Islamic democracy" put forward by moderate
Islamophobes to make their fascist colleagues' crusade in the name of
democracy acceptable to the Muslim world.
The central element of none of the proposals in favor of establishing Islam
in the individual Muslim states, is a rich conception of the Muslim
community, or Ummah. The result of following any of the scholar arguing for
Islamic state in an individual Muslim country is division of Muslims in more
than fifty states with the status quo of Western dominance fully maintained.
In contrast, if we look back, we find that the first Muslim community was
organized out of tribes whose pre-Islamic identities derived from intense,
complicated structures of tribal solidarity. Tribes had their own poets who
sang the tribes' history and glories. They had their own holy men and gods,
and their own tribal war cries handed down for generations. The Prophet
(pbuh) persuaded the members of these divided tribes to see themselves as
united by a belief in God, in Muhammad's (pbuh) prophecy and the Qur'an.
Adopting Islam meant transcending tribal solidarity and all other false
allegiances to put one's identity as a Muslim and a member of the community
of Muslims first. That the Prophet's revolutionary message of community
formation succeeded in such an inhospitable environment is testament to its
appeal, and to the early Muslims' capacity to imagine themselves in new
ways. The coalescence of the Arab tribes under the banner of the Muslim
Ummah was as remarkable as it was formidable.
As Islam spread through the Near and Middle East, the idea of the community
became ever more capacious, expanding across ethnic, linguistic, and
geographical boundaries. The community of the Muslims did not eliminate
these other forms of identity nor seek to make them disappear, but presented
itself as a point of unification beyond and above other kinds of identity
and modes of division. The community of the Muslims was a community of faith
but also a political community, governed during Prophet Mohammad's (pbuh)
life on the basis of legislative direction provided by God. After Muhammad's
death, however, prophecy ceased, leaving questions of who would rule and on
what legal basis. In the voluminous literature about the early years of
Islam, there is a general consensus that the first rulers of the community
adopted the title "Caliph" (Arabic khalifah), which means a delegate or a
viceroy or a replacement: someone who stands in for someone else. From the
beginning of Muslim history, the caliphs were understood to be selected by
people, not God; they were subject to God's law as described in the Qur'an
and the sayings of the Prophet; and they were expected to engage in
consultation with the community they governed. These features of early
Islamic political theory provide the basis for all the flawed modern
theories put forward with the assumption that establishment of Islamic State
and Islamic democracy is possible in the structure and framework that the
colonialists have left behind, or with the pre-conditions which the modern
day fascists have laid out for Muslims to follow if they want to be
considered "democratic. "
It is tempting to prove democracy compatible with Islamic traditions and
teachings. However, one must note that successive Muslim generations have
distorted the classical theories of governance in Islam in order to
rationalize new forms of governance. Historically valuable as such all
intellectual exercises from al-Banna to Dr. Israr Ahmad have been, they have
profoundly miss the point that many modern Muslims see in their tradition
the seeds of democratic structure but the question arises: Is establishing
an Islamic state possible within any of the 57 Muslim states today? History
of the intellectual and political exercises in the Muslim world over the
last century or so shows it is not possible as long as all traces of the
former colonial structure and present fascist dominance prevail. These are
two sides of the same coin. The concept of nation states, division of Muslim
into 57 different nations, allegiance to 57 different constitutions and
patriotically giving life for 57 pieces of land in itself is against the
basic teachings of Islam.
Islam binds the Ummah. Nationalism and nation-states divides it. The
question is not whether some sort of democratic structure is really there in
early Muslim history or classical Islamic political theory; that is an
interpretive question for Muslims to address in a different context. Of
course, potential democratic readings of Islamic tradition are possible, and
that Muslims today are reading their tradition that way. However, what
matters is living by Islam. Is that possible in any of these countries in
the present circumstances at national and international levels? If a
thorough analysis of the present day fascism concludes that it is not
possible, the next question will be: what is the future of Islamic movement
and what will follow the democratic fascism?
The inanity of moderate Islamophobes crosses all bounds when they describe
Islamic State as one, which simply declares that Islam is the state's
official religion. They believe that even if these states ignore the basic
Islamic law, still they will be Islamic democracy by virtue of declaring
themselves Islamic. Noah Feldman, for example writes in After Jihad:
One possible Islamic state would guarantee equal rights and freedom of
religion to all its citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. What would make
such a state Islamic might be simply a declaration that Islam is the state's
official religion, and perhaps some commitment to this ideal in the
symbolism of flags, oaths of office, prayers of invocation, and state
support of mosques. Assume that all these activities were decided by a large
majority vote, and that Islamic law did not form the basis for the state's
laws. This state would be Islamic in much the same way that Britain is
Anglican Christian.
Such a state could surely be counted as a democracy by the present day
Western standards and by virtue of having meaningless elections for changing
faces of the autocrats at the top. Nevertheless, such a state can never be
counted as Islamic. The existence of an official religion does not
necessarily infringe on any basic right. Yet mere declarations of official
religion do not make any state Islamic. Before discussing the exaggerated
myth of harm to non-Muslims in an Islamic state, one needs to find out what
makes a state Islamic in real sense.
Experience shows that even adopting a provision in constitution, announcing
that classical Islamic law shall be a source of law for the nation, is not
good enough to make a state Islamic. The constitution of Pakistan clearly
states that no legislation shall be repugnant to the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
But that has hardly made any difference. The secular laws and standards
prevail. Pakistan's legal system is primarily based on the same common law
of the colonial masters. Apart from the cosmetic inclusion of the legal code
of Shari'ah, English case law remains a primary source of authority in
commercial law matters. The military dictator goes to the Supreme Court to
make Riba (interest) permissible and throw away any democratically adopted
bill merely because it will lead to practicing Islam.
It is not only ridiculous but also amounting to pure kufr from the Islamic
perspective to suggest that an Islamic state would acknowledge classical
Islamic law as just one source of law among several and that it would not
embrace Islamic law in its totality. This flies in the face of the Qur'anic
injunction that tell Muslims to not believe in some parts of the Qur'an and
reject others (Al-Qur'an 2:85) and the Qur'an unequivocally condemns and
accuses them of Kufr (disbelief), Dhulm (injustice and oppression) and Fisq
(wickedness and enormous sin) who fail to establish law and authority on the
basis of the revealed Divine Law. (Al-Qur'an 5:44-47). At the moment, it
seems that compatibility of Islamic Democracy and state with the man made
laws and pre-conditions of the modern day fascists is more serious a concern
than living by the revealed standards and way of life for Muslims.
Again the question is not about the possibility of an Islamic state's
adopting Islamic law as its exclusive legal system and then enacting, law by
law, a code of rules that correspond to Islamic law. This is what Dr. Israr
Ahmad and many others before him have been suggesting. The question is about
the possibility of reaching that stage. In occupied Iraq, the senior figure
of the occupation authorities clearly declared that he will veto Shari'ah if
it came for inclusion in the constitution. There seems no possibility under
present circumstances that any Muslim state will declare and really mean
that no law and value will be imposed on the nation that is repugnant to the
Qur'an and Sunnah. It has become impossible to live by Islam and at the same
time please the modern day fascists. More importantly, it is not just the
matter of law. Saudi Arabia uses this full-blown system of classical Islamic
law except where the law has been supplemented by royal decrees and statutes
that govern corporate and tax law as well as oil matters. Yet the way the
kingdom is run cannot be considered as an Islamic State.
What actually makes a state Islamic is not hard to conceive. Democracy
literally means the rule of the people. The twenty-first century, however,
clearly proved that democracy means rule of the few elites in power who
decide what is good for the people. Public opposition to the Iraq war and
the states' decision to the contrary is a glaring example. To the contrary,
the essence of Islam lies in its basic meaning: submission to God, or more
felicitously, recognition of God's sovereignty. Submission to other
standards and false gods could be anything but Islam. Either the people or
God could be sovereign. Either man's law of God's law will prevail, but not
both.
The problem is that misconceptions about Islam have been spread to the
extent that the subjects of anti-Islam propaganda cease to use commonsense.
When people are told that sovereignty belongs to God, according to the
Islamic belief, they immediately assume that God has left no room for people
to rule themselves and that a sovereign God must leave nothing to chance or
choice. They ignore that none of the democratic schemes acknowledge that the
people are sovereign in the sense of having the last word on every question.
Similarly, constitutions, bills of rights and charters of rights all over
the "democratic" world suggest that all men are created equal and endowed by
their Creator with certain unalienable rights. An unalienable right cannot
be eliminated even if the people vote to abrogate it. The theory of
unalienable rights in itself places a limit on the sovereignty of the people
in the much-vaunted democracies. If some rights come from God, and the
people cannot alienate or override those rights, then isn't God sovereign
and not the people? And if that sovereign God can send rights, can't he
assign men some responsibilities as well. Despite recognizing the
sovereignty of God in a different way, no one argues that the U.S.
Declaration of Independence, for example, is undemocratic because it makes
God sovereign and places a limit on the sovereignty of the people.
To restrict Muslim from exercising their right to self-determination and
self-rule according to Islam, all discussions about compatibility of Islam
and democracy have been launched to present democracy superior to Islam. The
idea put forward is that if Muslims could not prove Islam compatible to
democracy, they better leave Islam aside and accept living by the Western
standards and values presented as democracy. The discussion over the issue
of God's sovereignty is part of the debate for the sake of keeping everyone
confused and restricting them from reaching the conclusion that
acknowledging God's sovereignty does not require believing that God has
absolutely left no room for people to rule themselves. A Muslim can believe
that God allows humans to rule themselves so long as they adhere to the
basic rules and principles on which He has spoken. It is un-Islamic on the
part of Muslims to believe that God is sovereign only in the sphere of the
personal, not the collective.
Islamophobes object vociferously to any suggestion of referring to Islam in
the state system and constitution. They argue that democracy is not possible
without separation of church and state. They argue that to be just to
everyone, democracy cannot impose one vision of the good life. Therefore,
democracy requires government to remain neutral about what values matter
most, and to leave that decision up to the individual. If religion and the
state do not remain separate, the state will inevitably impose or at least
encourage the version of the good life preferred by the official religion.
These Islamophobes ignore that Britain has no separation of church and
state. The queen is Defender of the Faith- one of the subsidiary titles of
the English (and later British) Monarchs since it was granted on October 17,
1521 by Pope Leo X to Tudor King Henry VIII of England (some other major
Catholic Kingdoms have obtained similar pious titles, such as Apostolic
King). The Queen is also head of the Church of England. Anglican bishops sit
in the House of Lords, and anyone who wants to change the Book of Common
Prayer must go through Parliament to do it. The Book of Common Prayers is
foundational prayer book of the Church of England first produced in 1549.
Yet Britain is the cradle of modern democracy.
As the national churches of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of
Finland and the Finnish Orthodox Church have a status protected by law. The
special legal position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is also
codified in the constitution of Finland. Both churches have the right to
levy an income tax on their members and every Finnish company as a part of
Corporation Tax. The tax is collected by the state.
To take another Western European example, in the German state of Bavaria the
schools are religious, mostly Catholic, ones, and almost every classroom
displays a crucifix. No one seems to think that this makes modern Germany
into something other than a democracy.
Similarly, all "democratic" governments support and impose one particular
view of the good life. They have faith-based initiatives and give money to
Churches. They give medals to heroes who die for values these governments
admire. These governments proclaim religious holidays and celebrate things
they care about. Public schools teach students what the governments mean to
be acceptable and honest. The schools even teach homosexuality because the
governments claim this amounts to teaching civility despite the fact that
this kind of values differ from place to place and even family-to-family.
These governments sponsor some art and not other art, and they use their
resources to put some books in their public libraries but not others. The
proponents of liberal democracy and Islamophobes do not say that this kind
of segregation is wrong because it causes some people to feel excluded. All
these government activities in the West are neutral. However, an Islamic
government must not come to power because it will presumably impose its
values on people. If it is argued that the Western democracies do not force
anyone to adopt religious beliefs that he or she rejects, or perform
religious actions that are anathema, so is this the basic rule of Islam that
there should be no compulsion in Deen. Unlike the modern-day fascists,
reshaping the Muslim world in their image by force, Islam has no record of
forced conversions or imposing its way of life on others. It has not
violated the basic right to religious liberty. Almost every act on the part
of Western governments imposes one or another kind of value upon their
citizens.

This is an excerpt from After Fascism: Muslims and the Struggle for
self-determination. <http://www.icssa. org/after_ fascism.html>

Note
[1] Jill Mahoney, "Only one-third of Canadians feel will of the people
rules, poll finds," Globe and Mail, April 3, 2006.

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